MRA 2020 Saturday Secondary Luncheon Featured Speaker: Donalyn Miller

Donalyn Miller
Donalyn Miller

Donalyn Miller, the “Book Whisperer,” will be one of the featured speakers at the Michigan Reading Association’s annual conference, speaking at the Secondary Luncheon on Saturday, March 14, 2020.

The following tribute to Donalyn’s work and influence is written by MRA Board Member, Suzanne Gibbs (Region 6 Representative). You can find her work on her website or find her on Twitter at @donalynbooks.

There is a person who has forever changed the way many educators approach the process of teaching reading to their students. Indeed, my classroom has a completely different feel because of this person. Donalyn Miller voiced many important ideas on crucial issues before it was popular. When it was risky. Fortunately, I’m an early adopter and have a supportive principal, so I just went for it!

Because of what I’ve learned from Donalyn, I can name over a hundred students whose lives have been changed because they developed a love of reading. I’ll tell you about one that is especially memorable. I will leave him nameless, as his story is one that might echo with students of your own. 

He came into our classroom during Open House, the evening before the first day of school. He looked at all of the books in our classroom library and made a comment about how much he “hates” reading. 

His parents, standing behind him, looked horrified that their son would be so brutally honest about this. 

I smiled at this sweet boy and said, “You know what? I’ve heard that from other people, too. I didn’t like reading when I was your age, either, but I think that maybe, just maybe, we can work on that together.” 

He gave that knowing, fourth grade kind of  “yeah, right” look and went on to investigate the rest of our classroom.

At the beginning of the school year, as he would fake read — and abandon nearly every book —  I would keep conferring with him, giving him suggestions of books that might interest him. He and every student in our classroom were able to freely choose books they wanted to read and, more importantly, abandon those books if they didn’t like it. 

In time, this young man discovered that he loved the Amulet (Kazu Kibuishi) series, and read every one that had been published. Twice. 

Then, January rolled around and our read-aloud was Rump (Liesl Shurtliff). My students announced that he wanted a copy for himself so he could read along. When we finished, he insisted that I buy more books in the series, and then read every book as it came out. He recommended those series (and others) to his classmates. 

This young man’s story echoes the type of thing that happens on a regular basis in our classroom, all as a results of Donalyn’s influence on my teaching. 

So, when I was asked to write a very short bio of Donalyn, I realize that’s not possible, so I borrow here from her own website.


Donalyn Miller is an award-winning teacher, author, and staff development leader who has taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grade language arts and social studies in the Fort Worth, Texas area. Her teaching awards include TCTELA’s Elementary Language Arts Teacher of the Year (2011), Keller ISD Elementary Teacher of the Year (2010), ESC Region XI Teacher of the Year (2010), TEA State Finalist Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year (2010), Trinity Meadows Intermediate School Teacher of the Year (2010), and Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented Region XI Rising Star Teacher (2008). In 2018, Donalyn was awarded TCTELA’s Edmund J. Farrell Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to the language arts teaching profession.

Donalyn is the author or co-author of several books about creating engaging and inclusive reading communities for all children. In her first book, The Book Whisperer (Jossey-Bass, 2009), Donalyn reflects on her journey to become a reading teacher and describes how she inspires and motivates her middle school students to read 40 or more books a year. In a starred review, Library Journal said, “Her approach is simple yet provocative: affirm the reader in every student, allow students to choose their own books, carve out extra reading time, model authentic reading behaviors, discard timeworn reading assignments such as book reports and comprehension worksheets, and develop a classroom library filled with high-interest books.” The Book Whisperer has been translated into several languages including French and Chinese.

In her second book, Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013), Donalyn collected survey responses from over 900 adult readers about their reading habits and used this information to explicitly model and teach lifelong reading habits to her students. Donalyn’s articles about teaching and reading have appeared in publications such as Gifted Child International, Education Week Teacher, The Reading Teacher, Voices From the Middle, Educational Leadership, Horn Book, and The Washington Post. Donalyn is currently working on a new book with Dr. Teri Lesesne, and has several solo and collaborative writing projects planned for 2018 and 2019.

Through her international conference presentations, workshops, school visits, published works, and online collaborations with colleagues, Donalyn shares the importance of free choice reading and provides suggestions and resources that foster children’s love of reading and the development of positive reading identities. Presentations include current and timeless research, classroom rituals and routines that support engaging reading communities, classroom and home library development, book recommendations, practical reading and writing workshop strategies and instructional moves, and personal stories about the power of independent reading and student choice.

Donalyn and her husband, Don, have two grown daughters, two granddaughters, and a new grandson. They live in Colleyville, Texas.


Register now (through Eventbrite) to experience General Session Speakers including Ernest Morrell, Sara K. Ahmed, Cornelius Minor and Jennifer Serravallo. Also, choose to attend sessions with Featured Speakers such as Chad Everrett, “Gholdy” Muhammad and John Schu, or Featured Authors including  Donalyn Miller, Tara Michener and Carrie Pearson.

For more on the conference, visit our 2020 Annual Conference page.

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